Everyone has places they go to become refreshed, to rejuvenate their spirit and renew their sense of purpose – maybe a walk in the woods or a trip home. For me it’s my grandparents’ house, which my family inherited several years ago and where we spend our summers, Christmases, and any other time we get a chance. No matter the season, our time is most often spent outdoors, on walks to the Cove, bike rides to High Hill Point, or gardening projects. Trips up there have a timeless feel: the house is more or less unchanged since my grandparents lived in it, and the days’ rhythms are consistent across the years. As each visit nears its end I feel more ready than ever to re-enter the world and live more fully.
Two years ago I learned that this safe haven of mine was not quite as safe as I’d imagined. I’d recently graduated from Middlebury, and was starting my first job as a field organizer for Green Corps, an environmental organizing training program. Our class of organizers had convened for our first training, and part of that included a three-day field campaign in communities around the region. My group headed down Route 24 to a town just across the river from my grandparents’ house, where we’d be partnering with a local community group working to shut down a nearby coal-fired power plant.
In the car, we read up on the public health risks of the plant, which was the second largest in the region and had been polluting the air and water with mercury and other pollutants for years. Health risks from these pollutants included asthma, heart disease, and cancer.
As the plant came into view when we were nearing the town, I recognized it, and was shocked to realize that this was the monstrosity we often passed on boat trips with my grandfather growing up. Back then I had no idea what it was (my dad thought it was maybe a nuclear plant), or what it was doing to the environment around my grandparents’ house. But now the dots began to connect. This plant was contaminating the river with mercury, its uncovered coal pile was filling the air with harmful particles, and it was endangering my family. My grandmother passed away from esophageal cancer despite not smoking a day in her life, and a shadow of doubt crept into my mind: what if this coal plant had something to do with it?
I was mad. I couldn’t believe the risks that the community was being asked to shoulder for the sake of this power plant, and the long-term risks all of us were shouldering as it spewed its climate-warming emissions into the air unquestioned. Doing something to shut it down became the way I channeled my anger, and I knew that I’d found what I wanted to do for my career. In the end I only spent three days working on that particular power plant campaign, but within a year, thanks to the dedicated efforts of the community group, the plant’s retirement was announced.
Since then, I’ve worked in community organizing for two years and most recently began working for the Will Steger Foundation, whose mission to address climate change through education and youth empowerment deeply resonates with me. The impacts of climate change threaten all of our special places and all of our loved ones, and I feel lucky to be working towards tackling that threat.